General Question

wundayatta's avatar

"How, in ordinary social interactions, do you decide someone is smart?"?

Asked by wundayatta (58663points) November 24th, 2008

We must have an interior set of criteria that we apply to everyone we meet, and for some of them we apply the label smart or very smart. I think it’s also referred to as “intelligent.” That is, that people use the terms somewhat interchangeably.

I’m also trying get a sense of what people mean when they think someone is intelligent or smart. Is it always a good thing? Is it an attractive thing? Can it also be a repellant thing?

Do you apply these adjectives to yourself? Why or why not? Do you think that people who straight out tell you they are smart are telling you anything useful? Do you think they are bragging? Do you question their motives for broadcasting this?

Go thou and speak intelligently of intelligence!

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29 Answers

battlemarz's avatar

I would have to say grammar has a lot to do with it. When speaking with someone you can tell pretty quickly how intelligent they are by how they carry on their conversation.

I think it is hard to qualify it as a good or bad thing as that varies from person to person. Intelligence is just one of many many traits that would define that.

flameboi's avatar

For Girls
If you don’t mention last friday party/make-up/sports/your favorite soap opera/that jerk guy you’ve been dating/your daddy paying your bills/that prada handbag/ you fit in the criteria of “smart girl v 1.0” then, as the coversation develops and you tend to define your life as a constant challenge more than a simple accomplishment, you definitely have something going on, even more if you talk about you college without mentioning words like making out/booze/can’t wait for spring brake to come/etc… and if you work and you talk about it with passion instead of boredom, that’s a plus :) If you can handle a 7 course dinner, a round of drinks, the difference between a good drink and a bad drink and some politics, I’ll marry you, no doubt about it (o.k. you all know I’m against marriage but in the end you never know)

tonedef's avatar

I think that humor is the best indicator of intelligence. It highlights an individual’s ability to quickly associate concepts, indicates a large repository of knowledge, and a good understanding of social cues and mores.

I think that Stephen Colbert is a good example. If you listen to interviews with him, his wit is incredible. He is just a very intelligent person, and he doesn’t need to pontificate on high-brow topics to show it. John Waters, too.

flameboi's avatar

waiting for niki’s response

jessturtle23's avatar

I think quick wit for me as well. I am sure people talk to me sometimes and think I am a dumbass and I very may well be one.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

When I meet someone in person, I would have to say 1) perceptiveness conveyed through an off-the-cuff comment or a quick sense of humor or irony 2) nondescript clothing 3) decent vocabulary, used correctly 4) I learn something new in the course of the conversation. oh wait, I think I just described AstroChuck

dynamicduo's avatar

I try to get a feel for a person by having an in depth discussion of some topic, usually of that person’s choosing. To me, any of the following criteria indicate some level of smarts: referencing data or studies, a proper use of the language spoken, the topic matter itself (there’s a difference between going on and on about being sooo drunk last weekend, and discussing how caught up you get in the emotions highlighted in classical music), one’s body language and self confidence, one’s willingness to explain or challenge a thought versus becoming hostile, a high level of passion and independent thought in this and other discussions. The most important factor for me is thinking for oneself.

howbecome's avatar

The most intelligent people I know and have met asked the best questions. They were endlessly curious. Vocabulary, interesting insights and cleverness are other common traits, but primarily they were genuinely inquisitive. After all, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

asmonet's avatar

When they don’t double up the (air)quotes.

Nah, but usually, just from their speech, what they choose to say, how they express themselves and how they limit their words so they don’t look like an elitist fool.

That, and you can tell, in the eyes. At least that’s what I think.

Yes, I think I’m very intelligent, as for when it’s said to me, I don’t think it’s bragging until it’s mentioned a few times in the span of one conversation. Or if it’s clear they’re using words they don’t normally to look better.

augustlan's avatar

In addition to things others have mentioned: How a person listens can sometimes be more important than how they speak. Are they paying attention? Do they ask follow up questions? Are they engaged in an active conversation?

I don’t think intelligence is ever bad, it is just a tool, or a trait. Depending on personality type, intelligence can be put to good use or bad. Sometimes even to waste!

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@asmonet, I know what you mean about the eyes thing.

flameboi's avatar

And of course I forgot to mention, intelligent girls are like. mmm, let’s say that I die for girls, just like that! there is nothing better than a conversation full of valid arguments that can go on and on, you just keep listening and learning, that blows my mind :) there is nothing more boring than an ordinary person :s

mea05key's avatar

is sarcasm related to intelligence in any way?

flameboi's avatar

If the person understood, yes, that person is smart enough to handle that literary resource, if the person doesn’t, run away before she/he starts a competition involving “the smurfs”

squirbel's avatar

Grammar is a primary indicator.

The second indicator is what they are talking about – is it “fluff”, or “solid”. A person who shares their own thoughts rather than the thoughts of others is someone I consider intelligent – even if I disagree with them.

Another is the brightness of the eyes. I am a firm believer in the idea that intelligent people have bright eyes.

I have two personalities to offer people I meet in public – intelligent people get the “chatty me” and other people get the “reserved, monosyllabic me”.

dynamicduo's avatar

Sarcasm and intelligence…. Yes and no I’d say. No, because some people rely too much on sarcasm instead of intellect and it gets old fast. Yes, because some of the best sarcastic quips have had a big twist of nerdy intellect to them, and the quip wouldn’t exist or be funny without intellect. Another yes, smart people know not to use sarcasm too much, so you could find sarcasm being less prevalent in smarter people, but more sharp when it happens.

squirbel's avatar

@mea05key: Sarcasm is a literary tool that became very popular as a social tool about 10 years ago. The social form is very rude and biting – and has no close ties to “wit”. Wit is smart and intelligent banter, and humorous.

Sarcasm is not equal to wit, although many people behave as though sarcasm is witty.

So thar ya go. :)

mea05key's avatar

I agree with u squirbel… this is the 2nd time ! gosh u really enlighten me alot today

bythebay's avatar

I love smart boys…that’s why I married one! He’s been keeping me on my toes for almost 20 years. Smart can be very sexy and also annoying when it’s a cloying trait. I know many brilliant people who are totally incapable of carrying on a conversation outside of their realm. Basically they are what would be described as smart, but have no social apptitude. That said, in general I notice wit, a well rounded sense of knowledge, passion and adequate vocabulary; do they engage in conversation or merely spout facts? Are they a responsive listener? I would question the motive and self esteem of anyone who wanted to declare their intelligence without reason. I used to live to debate with those on the school debate team who would state the intent to “blow you away”, usually they couldn’t stop spouting long enough to get out of their own way! As for how I view myself, I suppose I would have to simply say I can usually hold my own.

@mea05key: I think sarcasm can be humorous when it’s relevant and intelligent. Not so much when it’s a defense mechanism for lack of knowledge.

nikipedia's avatar

There are a lot of questions here!

1. “How, in ordinary social interactions, do you decide someone is smart?”?

I think we are conditioned to pick up on some cues as evidence that someone is smart—good vocabulary, interest in sophisticated topics, etc—although those are not necessarily reliable indicators.

I am most certain of someone’s intelligence if s/he makes astute observations and/or asks trenchant questions.

Is it always a good thing? Is it an attractive thing? Can it also be a repellant thing?

I have to admit that I think it has a lot of inherent value, but it can be used pretty badly. To me it is attractive rather than repellent—I wonder if there is a subtle gender bias here, though. At the risk of going conspiracy-theory-feminist, I think men tend to be turned off by intelligent women more than women are turned off by intelligent men, and I think that’s hard for a lot of men to own up to.

Do you apply these adjectives to yourself? Why or why not? Do you think that people who straight out tell you they are smart are telling you anything useful? Do you think they are bragging? Do you question their motives for broadcasting this?

I guess I do, but I try to limit it to times when it’s actually relevant. Conversations about intelligence are relatively frequent in grad school. I think the manner in which someone describes his/her intelligence is more important than the fact that s/he is doing it, so I might question motives, depending.

flameboi's avatar

You are brilliant ;)!

laureth's avatar

Everybody, I think, is smart about something. An “uneducated” farmer knows more about how to grow crops, tend animals, and make the dirt produce food than you probably ever will. Even in the midst of urban decay, you will find moms who know way more about ghetto survival than you do, although they may have dropped out of school at a young age. There are also the kind of smart people, like Albert Einstein, who was way smart about physics, but not so much when it came to daily tasks like brushing hair.

A person’s life experience often dictates how any innate intelligence will be put to best use. It’s the size of the toolbox and how well it’s organized that’s often more important than the tools inside. (Sometimes, people with a lot of tools inside aren’t all that smart, either.) Not all smart people have access to scholarly education, but the “smarts” still manifest somehow.

That said, I think some folks have an amazing lack of plain old common sense. Smart isn’t necessarily “how much you know,” it’s how your brain works (at least in my opinion).

A smart person dropped into a totally unfamiliar situation will find a way to make things work, and have a much better chance of thriving than a less-smart person dropped into the same situation, just because they can think more and put connections together in their head better and more quickly than can an average person.

Smart is very attractive to me. (Perhaps it’s attractive for the same reason that a good hunter was attractive to cavewomen – better survival ability, better provider, makes better babies.) I married a smart guy, and he married a smart wife. In fact, not-smart would have been a deal-breaker in a relationship. I don’t want to have to always be the clever one – he needs to pull his weight. And luckily, we’re smart in different (yet complimentary) areas, so we cover a wide spectrum. I wouldn’t necessarily advertise it broadly unless I’m in a situation that warrants it, though. Otherwise, it’s like some supermodel telling you how much more beautiful she is than you could ever be. It’s best to let the results speak for themselves, imho.

syz's avatar

In descending order of importance to my forming a positive opinion:

Well spoken and lucid argument, humor and wit, awareness and understanding of current events, an open and curious mind.

I’m ashamed to say that many of the things that I base an opinion of lack if intelligence on are unfair:

A thick accent, lacking in social skills, an opinion diametrically opposed to my own.

delirium's avatar

Grammar, Wit, and not asking me to define half of the words I use.

tinyfaery's avatar

An uneducted person can be extremely intelligent, even with a lack of language skills.

I try not to judge whether or
not someone is intelligent. The only way I’ll label someone as not-so-smart is if a person has often demostrated a lack of
judgement and poor knowledge of basic information. However if
someone admits to being inaccurate, I am less likely to
label that person than I am someone who thinks they are
always correct. The only true stupidity is thinking we know everything.

wundayatta's avatar

I am so glad that at least a couple of you mentioned that education does not equate with intelligence, and that people we would consider uneducated might be highly intelligent. That fits with my sense of things. I tend to believe that everyone has something to teach me. Sometimes it can be an effort to find it, but I’m good at asking questions, so usually they do teach me something.

The thing that surprised me was that so many people mentioned humor and wit. I tended to think of that as a rather frivolous thing, more common in not-so-smart folks. I guess that’s because, personally, it takes an awful lot to make me laugh, and I find that most of what passes for humor is terribly boring.

Perhaps because of that, until recently, it had not occurred to me that I had much of a sense of humor. I didn’t think it was important, and I didn’t think people cared. However, a number of people have recently told me a) that they like my sense of humor, and b) that they thought I was funny.

I’m not sure how good that is, since I’m not aware of trying to be funny. I sure hope no one mistakes accidental humor for a sign of intelligence. I think people find me funny when I’m acting stupid or ridiculous or naive. Who knows how much of an act it really is, anyway? Although, probably folks are thinking of those razor sharp wits that we see in British movies about the upper class.

I like to entertain people. It’s a way of keeping their attention on what I want them to focus on. I guess I do work for laughs of some kind, because that shows me people are paying attention.

As I said, though, it had never occurred to me that it might be a sign of intelligence. Actually, I hadn’t really thought about language, and grammar and syntax, either. I’m not sure I’d recognize syntax if my whiskey cost twice as much as usual. Sorry. Bad. I know.

So thank you so much for what you’ve said so far. I’ve learned from all of you (so you all must be terribly smart). Keep those ideas coming!

delirium's avatar

The ability to help someone smile is intelligence.

SeventhSense's avatar

The flutherons have quantifiable machines to do calculations and store data and as such do not need our intelligence. They are only tapping our creativity which is lacking in their world and has been for eons.
That said, “In person it’s in the eyes”.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Vocabulary and grammar are my prime indicators. Factual knowledge comes in a close second. Personality issues do not enter into my assessment since, as an autistic myself, I realize that great intellectual ability can lie behind social ineptitude.

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